Friday, January 15, 2010
Malcolm X: an influential leader
By KARISSA KIBLINGER
(Karissa Kiblinger was an eighth grader at South Middle School during the 2008-2009 school year.)
A foster child and street hustler who went on to become a world leader.
Born as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, Malcom X would never know, nor would he ever imagine that he’d be remembered as one of the most influential African- American leaders through the periods of 1950’s and 60’s.
Louis Norton Little, a homemaker occupied with the family’s eight children and Earl Little, an outspoken Baptist Minister who strongly supported Black Nationalist leader, Marcus Gravey, raised Malcolm. Because of Earl’s belief in the movement for black independence, the family became a target of the Ku Klux Klan. Soon death threats drove the Littles out of town. The family later settled in Lansing Michigan, but Earl still continued to make public speeches in favor of the (UNIA) Universal Negro improvement Association, and in 1929 the result of this led to the family’s house being burned down be members of the Black Legion.
Two years later in 1931, Earl’s body was found lying across the town's trolley tracks. Police ruled both incidents as accidents, but the family was left to believe that members of the black Legion were at fault again.
Several years later, Louis had an emotional breakdown and was committed into the State Mental Hospital of Kalamazoo in 1937, where she would reside for the next twenty-six years of her life. It was reported that Louis never fully recovered from Earl’s death.
This left Malcolm, only at six, and his other seven brothers and sisters to be split up amongst different orphanages and foster homes.
Malcolm was said to be a very bright and focused student, graduating at the top of his class his junior high year. However when a favorite teacher of Malcolm’s told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer was “ no realistic job for a nigger,” Malcolm lost interest in school later leaving him to drop out, never getting to high school.
Boston Massachusetts was Malcolm’s escape.
Living with his half sister on his father’s side, Malcolm began working several peculiar jobs. Shoeshine boy, soda jerk, busboy and waiter. Eventually he landed a job with the New Haven railroad, which gave him an opportunity to meet very educated African-Americans. But after some time Malcolm was fired from this job and at around this time he began committing petty acts of crime. He soon started to go by the name of “Detroit Red” and
1942 was coordinating various, narcotics prostitution and gambling rings while selling drugs and hustling on the streets.
Eventually Malcolm and his buddy “shorty”, also known as Malcolm Jarvis, moved to Harlem, New York, where they were arrested with burglary charged and for carrying concealed weapons. Their sentence was ten years.
It was 1946. Malcolm was now being held in prison, but as others thought of jail as just a place to serve their time. Malcolm used his time in solitude to further his education. During this period of self-enlightenment, Malcolm’s younger brother visited to discuss his recent conversion to the Muslim religious organization, The Nation of Islam. Malcolm became very intrigued with his brother’s words and stories and began studying the teachings of, Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad, faithfully.
Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success. Among other goals, the Nation of Islam fought for a state of its own, separate from one inhabited by white people. By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname "X." He considered "Little" a slave name and chose the "X" to signify his lost tribal name.
Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York. Malcolm used newspaper columns, radio and television to communicate the Nation of Islam's message across the United States. His character, drive and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.
In all of this, Betty Sanders stood by Malcolm’s side to marry him on January 14th in Lansing, Michigan in 1958.
The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace in 1959. But was later faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame was upsetting his mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
Racial tensions ran increasingly high during the early 1960s. In addition to the media, Malcolm's personality had captured the government's attention. As membership in the Nation of Islam continued to grow, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents infiltrated the organization (one even acted as Malcolm's bodyguard) and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps and cameras to monitor the group's activities.
And after the civil rights movement in 1962, Malcolm discovered that Elijah was having secret, sexual relations with as many as six women. Some even resulted in kids. Deeply hurt by Elijah’s hypocrisy and deception, Malcolm refused Elijah’s request to keep the matter quiet.
Then when Malcolm received criticism after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for saying, "[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon," Muhammad "silenced" him for ninety days. Even though Malcolm suspected he was silenced for another reason. In March 1964, he terminated his relationship with the Nation of Islam and organized the OAAU.. Organization of Afro-American Unity.
In that same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The trip proved life altering, as Malcolm met "blonde-haired, blue-eyed men I could call my brothers." He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration. This time, instead of just preaching to African-American’s he had a message for all races.. This outraged Muhammad. The Nation of Islam even warned Malcolm that he had been marked for assassination. After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965, the home where Malcolm, Betty and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed. Everyone escaped injury free, but it wasn’t the case on February 21st, 1965. when Malcolm was assassinated when he started to address a rally in New York City.
From the New York Times:
Malcolm X, the 39-year old leader of a militant Black Nationalist movement, was shot to death yesterday afternoon at a rally of followers in a ballroom in Washington Heights. Malcolm, a bearded extremist, had said only a few words of greeting when a fusillade rang out. The bullets knocked him over backward. The police said a total of seven bullets struck Malcolm. About two hours later, police said the shooting had apparently been in a result of a feud between followers of Malcolm and members of the group he broke from last year, the Black Muslims.
Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Buttler and Thomas 15X Johnson, were charged with the first-degree murder of Malcolm X, on March 1966. All were later found out to be members of Nation of Islam.
Fifteen hundred people attended the funeral for Malcolm in Harlem on February 27th, 1965 at the Fait Temple Church of God in Christ. Friends of Malcolm buried him themselves. Later that year Betty gave birth to their twin daughters, Malaak and Malikah.
“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
"You know, right before Malcolm was killed he came down to Selma and said some pretty passionate things against me, and that surprised me because after all it was my territory there. But afterwards he took my wife aside, and said he thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me in the long run."
-Martin Luther King Jr.